Tuesday, March 22, 2011


So I brought my computer into my host brother’s room to write this post. Definitely walked in on him watching a National Geographic special on the international bra industry. Conveniently, I walked in during the fashion show segment, and in a society where showing your arms is scandalous, I felt like I walked in on him watching porn.  He changed it as soon as I sat down. Anyway, I guess I should recap significant things from the past couple of weeks. So after an awesome weekend hiking around and exploring Jaipur, my group went to Ranthambore. This is a kind of rural area in Rajasthan that has really only developed as a result of ecotourism centered around the preservation of tigers. They’re seriously endangered in India and this park is home to about 30 of the hundred some left  in India. Basically, this one awesome guy retired from his job, decided to dedicate his life to saving tigers and started up these two NGOs called Prakratik and Tiger Watch. They have formed a whole new way of living for the surrounding people simply in the name of saving the tiger; the whole operation is controversial, but really interesting. Tiger Watch came in to the forest area where the tigers lived and, by order of Indira Gandhi, moved all the forest dwelling communities out of their forest and relocated them outside of the forest. They were given land money and vocational training so that they could re-establish themselves somewhere else. These people are ex-poachers who relied on tiger hunting for their livelihoods. The relationship between Tiger Watch and the forest dwellers is still delicate, but the organization has otherwise done some awesome work with community development. In order to build rapport and trust with the surround people, Prakratik has set up a private school, new hospital (with almost entirely free surgeries for villagers), bio-fuel converters and a system of artificial insemination for cows that will have a higher milk yield. All of these projects rely a ton on the tourists who come to Ranthambore for tiger safaris and such. Our group of course took a safari through the tiger reserve to test our luck in seeing the precious tiger. We split into two jeeps and right away ours started having problems. It was smoking, popping and the accelerator just refused to work. So after much conversation between the park ranger, our staff, and the driver (who had a hint of whiskey on his breath) they decide to let our 15 person jeep roll down the hill to get back to the ranger center. The brakes worked occasionally as we slid backwards down this rocky hill. God knows how he steered it, but we somehow got down the hill and piled into another vehicle. We tour around the park, looking at birds and mongoose and the like when the ranger says something to the driver and he starts zooming through this thick safari, whipping around rocky and uneven corners and blasting through this shallow river getting us all wet. (As I’m writing this, the music video for “Black and Yellow” is on and I just spent five minutes explaining to Yeshu, my brother, the significance of the terrible towel). We get to our rushed destination and, oh my, there’s been a tiger spotting! Luckily, there are at least five other jeeps crowded in this one ditch area with all of their passengers climbing on top of the rails and yelling at each other so they can see this tiger. It of course is lying down and occasionally raises its head, which causes everyone climb higher and shove harder to get a view. Who are the animals now…? Our guide would tell us to be quiet as we all tried climbing and crouching at different angles to get a view through the 15 ft of brush separating us from the tiger. However, he clearly meant the Indian version of quiet (aka a little lower than a shout), for as soon as he would shush us, he would yell at the jeep in front of us to move so that we could get a better view. Most jeeps that showed up were full of older white people who wiped out ridiculous lenses and literally stood on their seats and jeep bars so as to get the best angle. I’ve never seen old men move so fast, especially with those crazy beige safari hats they were all wearing. It was all over a great trip and the community development work Prakratik does is pretty groundbreaking. Look them up.   I’d have to say though that of all the events of that excursion, the most eventful happened the night I got home and tried to tell my family what I learned. That whole week we just had Hindi vocab and review sessions since it was too much to have our usual 2 hour classes. We learned all the parts of the face and body so we could ask how much money poachers get for different parts of the tiger. Anyway, I was telling my family at dinner, pointing to my eyes for aank and nose for naak as they all nod and repeat. Then I point to my mouth and say “muut,” but no one repeats it and they all look at each other awkwardly as my brother stifles a laugh. My mom turns to me and sternly says “Jessica, don’t say that word. Mouth is muu.” The next day I ask my brother what muut means. He looks around to make sure no one is within earshot and almost whispers “ahh, you see, it means…penis.”

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